Bill Buford's book Heat is a fascinating view into a culture few if any of us know a lick about. And I'm not referring to the culture of the professional kitchen. Tony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential did that a few years ago. Kitchens are loud, pressure-filled and populated by odd people, we know that already. And yes, we now know that Dario is a bigger kook (deep down) than Mario.
What Heat puts on display is the pedagogy of mindless repetition: that any task, repeated ad nauseum, creates expertise in that task.
Mr. Buford's description of "getting slammed" at the grill station is one of the finest examples I've ever read of this principle. His ability to innovate wasn't a critical success factor - his ability to execute complex processes consistently - and under pressure - was. He didn't learn how to grill at the CIA - he learned on the line through brutal repetition.
Having mastered the physical tasks, I would imagine they became second-nature to Mr. Buford, freeing himself to innovate with confidence. But he doesn't focus on the end-result (the knowledge) or the use of that knowledge (innovation) - instead he focuses his book on the process, the learning-through-doing. It's the process that's on display in Heat, the very crucible of learning itself.
Proof: At the end of the book, he commits to "going to France" to learn what happened to Italian cuisine after it crossed into France with Catherine di Medici. More hilarious hijinks in equally oppressive and no doubt even more kooky French kitchens will ensue in the promised sequel, which I'll bet will be called Chaud.